Jeff “Spiderweb” Vogel has started up a blog, and in today’s post he breaks silence by giving out the numbers on Geneforge 4. He did this mainly for the benefit of aspiring indie designers.

I’ve been curious myself on how well the Spiderweb games sell. Obviously, they’ve sold enough over the years to keep Jeff in business. Fifteen years as an indie is an amazing record.

For all that, I found the numbers for GF4 to be, well, a bit of a shock. Jeff estimates that it cost $120K to make it. Quite a high figure, considering he’s the only one of three who worked full time on the game. Then again, he writes his games for both Mac and Windows, which adds to the cost.

Geneforge 4 came out in 2007, and as of March 13, 2009, has sold only 3979 copies at $28 each. That’s a gross income of $111,412. Many independents would think that a good number, but even throwing in hint book sales, doesn’t recoup the initial development cost.

Jeff isn’t upset by that, however. The game is still selling, and he figures he’ll make the investment back eventually. Also, he points out that GF4 is available only from his site. Other Spiderweb games are better sellers (he didn’t mention which ones, but of course that has to be the Avernum series), and many can be obtained elsewhere.

Still, I was surprised that the number sold is so low. While the Geneforge series isn’t as popular as Avernum, it still has many of the “old school” RPG features we love, especially turn-based combat.

Perhaps the game needed more publicity. Common to many indie efforts, the Spiderweb games don’t get as much press as the “A” titles. They do get some; I see in my “game site rounds” that several places mention them. Obviously, not enough do.

Regardless, Jeff has managed to succeed for fifteen years. As he points out, his returns are modest but acceptable. He may not be rich, but he isn’t starving, either.

Possibly the lesson independents can learn from this is: you can make a decent living catering to a specific niche (and a small one, at that) market. Even with a tiny company, and not much press coverage. No one says it’s easy, but it’s doable.

How Many Games I Sell on Jeff Vogel’s blog